The White House on Thursday said there are no plans at this time for President Biden to travel to the site of a trail derailment disaster in Ohio while defending the administration’s response amid Republican criticism.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked multiple times by reporters if Biden had any plans to visit East Palestine, whether such a plan is even under discussion and if the potential environmental disaster site rose to the level of a presidential visit.
“I don’t have anything to share on a presidential visit, not at this time, or anything to announce. But it does matter that the president put forth a multi-agency kind of reaction to this, taking it seriously,” Jean-Pierre said.
She defended the decision for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to visit the site of the derailment this week instead of Biden, who just returned from a trip to Ukraine and Poland.
“Showing up is having the Environmental Protection administer on the ground, showing up is having the Transportation secretary on the ground … all these guys are on the ground at the direction of this president,” she said.
Jean-Pierre also noted that there was no reason to “struggle” over why Biden hasn’t yet been to the site of the crash that occurred on Feb. 3.
But Republican criticism was exacerbated this week when East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway said on Monday that Biden’s trip to Ukraine that day was the “biggest slap in the face,” and that it showed the president “doesn’t care about us.” Then President Trump visited the town on Wednesday, blasting the Biden administration for “indifference and betrayal” in what he said was a lack of response.
Jean-Pierre noted several times during Thursday’s briefing that the EPA responded to the site of the crash early the next morning.
The president has no events on his public schedule for the rest of Thursday. The only thing scheduled on Friday is a virtual meeting with Group of Seven leaders and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to mark the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion.
Jean-Pierre said that while overseas, Biden took calls on the matter in Ohio and got updates from agency leaders.
When Buttigieg traveled to the site of the derailment on Thursday, he called on Trump to support the Biden administration in reversing Trump-era deregulations. The White House has blamed Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration for lax railway and environmental safety regulations in the aftermath of the derailment.
Buttigieg’s visit aligned with when the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued its initial findings from investigators on the ground. The preliminary report tentatively corroborated reports that a wheel bearing severely overheated ahead of the accident. NTSB said investigators have examined the first car to derail — the 23rd overall — as well as local surveillance footage, which seemingly shows a wheel bearing in late-stage overheat failure immediately ahead of the accident.